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July 1999

Enter the ORB

By: Gerry DePetro

Early in 1998 I was reading my subscription to PC World Magazine. An article caught my eye that I had been waiting to see for quite some time. For the longest time I had wanted a storage device that would fit my wish list of features that only one type of device could meet. Had that device I only dreamed of finally become a reality?

Enter the ORB. The article was about removable hard drive storage devices. I had been aware of the Zip drives and the Jaz drives and the Syjet drives. But not one of them fit the bill for all that I wanted in such a device. After reading the article I knew the ORB drive was exactly what I had been waiting for.

It was almost too good to be true. The article described the ORB drive as being super fast, versatile in a variety of device types, huge storage 2.2 gigs worth, small in size, easy to use, and most appealing of all very low priced.

The ORB drive is made by Castlewood Systems, Inc. <http://www.castlewood.com> and its developer also had developed the Syquest technology. Castlewood kept pushing the release for this drive back several months and finally in the Spring of 1999 it became available after extensive beta testing.

The ORB drive comes in many flavors; SCSI internal and external, Parallel Port, Eide and soon to be available USB and Firewire. I opted for the IDE model. Its spec sheet seemed quite adequate for my needs. For you SCSI lovers I am sure that model will satisfy you plenty. OS/2 support is listed on the box, but this is not exactly correct, at least at the moment, for all models of the Orb. Both the IDE and SCSI versions will work out of the box with OS/2, as no special drivers are required. However, the parallel port and USB versions require drivers which aren't finished yet.

I spoke with Castlewood recently in preparation for this article and they told me they are definitely committed to a Parallel Port model compatible with OS/2 and expect drivers and firmware to be updated in early July. They told me that USB, SCSI and PP models will all be compatible with OS/2. The PP and USB models will not be bootable but SCSI models on desktops and notebooks will be. So the ORB is compatible with notebooks with those conditions. It was good to hear they are committed to supporting OS/2.

Orb internal, external drives and cartridges

One nemesis of removable drives is that they have never really quite been able to perform on the level of a true hard drive and the ORB has managed to come the closest of any.

I have been putting the ORB through its paces and for OS/2 users I think it can fit the bill for your needs. I will be completely honest in my review here so that you can make an informed choice if you want to get an ORB drive. I found it delivered respectably with just a few glitches and limitations.

The ORB drive is bootable, acts like any IDE hard drive and requires no software drivers for any operating systems. When you install the ORB you do it just like an IDE hard drive. For easiest install it is best to have a PC with the latest BIOS version. In the BIOS you just run your auto detect and you are ready to go. ORB is recognized right away on boot up.

The ORB disks come formatted as a FAT 16 logical partition. Usually it will be assigned the next drive letter before your CD-ROM so there should not be any problem. If you make it a primary partition then your drive letters may get out of order.

When I booted up OS/2 it shows up just like any other drive ready for work. Drive access time was crisp and I had no problems installing or running software on it. It also ran streaming video without a glitch as well as sound files. I found its 2.2 gigs of space a real bonus for running or storing these large types of files.

The real test I wanted to put the ORB through was to install operating systems and make it bootable. I installed Warp 4 to an HPFS partition and it installed without any problems. One note, to install Warp you first must delete the FAT16 partition with Windows9x . OS/2 was not able to do this. When I tried to install Warp 4 on a FAT partition I ran into problems. It hung on the first reboot. At the time of this article I am waiting for Castlewood tech support to get back to me regarding this issue. But for the OS/2 purist this should not be an issue since they will probably only use HPFS. Also it seems that something in the first 100megs of the disk just does not like being assigned the boot sector. So as a remedy I created a 2000 partition on the end of the drive free space leaving the first 100 megs empty. Warp 3 installed just fine on HPFS once I followed this procedure.

For all its good points I really did not find all that much to criticize about the ORB. As with any removable hard drive you have to be careful with the media. After all it is not a fixed disk drive. The disks can withstand heat and cold fairly well but don't drop them. There is a warning on the label stating this. You have to be a little nimble inserting the disks. You push in and downward to mount the disk. To eject the disk you just push an eject button or in Windows it is software controlled. It spins up quickly so you are ready to start working right away.

If you change ORB disks to run different files systems or operating systems I found sometimes I had to re-detect the drive in the BIOS so it would be identified correctly on boot up. This was a minor inconvenience I feel for the versatility of the drive.


Pentium or higher PC.
Empty external 3 1/2 or 5 1/4 drive bay with front panel access
IDE or SCSI controller for appropriate model
Windows NT 4.0 with service pack 3 or higher
OS/2 Warp or later
MS-DOS 5.0 or later


Fast, performs about like an average IDE hard drive,
Easy to set up and use,
Large storage,
Drive and media very low priced.


Some extra care needed when inserting disks,
Some glitch in installing Warp 4 on FAT partition,
Disks are not durable enough for rough handling like a floppy.


10 ms read/ write 12 ms
12.2 MB/sec Data Burst Transfer Rate Maximum
16.6 MB/sec Burst Rate Transfer
5400 RPM
Head MR (Magneto-Resistive)
ORB Tools needed for Windows. Include on the free disk that comes with ORB.
ORB Tools are a suite of Windows utilities for the ORB. It has a quick
partition/format util, a util that checks for drive integrity like scan disk
etc. and some other tools like ejecting the disk from drive. ORB is a total
stand alone drive though and does not need the orb tools. Any OS can fdisk it and
format it. The only ORB tools that will matter for OS/2 they told me, will be
for the PP models. So ORB can be a complete stand alone drive with no need for
Windows whatsoever.

The ORB drive sells for between $150 and $200 range. It comes with one free ORB disk. It is loaded with advertising programs that you can delete since they take up almost the whole 2.2 gigs of space. The best prices I have seen for the ORB have been listed on Pricewatch.com. You may want to also check out Indelible Blue http://www.indelible-blue.com which carries the Parallel Port and IDE Orb and planned to have the SCSI external model available by the end of June.

I give the ORB drive a thumbs up, it is quite suitable for the OS/2 user.

Copyright 1999 all rights reserved.
Gerry DePetro

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